Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Sunday - The Resurrection and Union with Christ

Paul often speaks of Christ's resurrection in terms of its benefits for believers.  Specifically, what happens to Christ, in his human nature, is applied to Christ's people as they are in Spirit-wrought union with him by faith.  Paul describes Christ's resurrection as his justification, sanctification, and adoption.  First justification:

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory. (1 Tim. 3:16)
The word here for vindicated is the same word as justification.  So we have to ask what it means for Christ to have been justified by the Spirit.  Now we know that Jesus was not sinful and so he never needed salvation as we do.  Yet we also know that he bore our sins in his body in his death.  So in his death he suffered the penalty for our sins even though he did not have any sin of his own.  In his resurrection by the Spirit, the Father declares that he accepts Jesus as righteous. In other words it is the sign that the Father accepts the obedience of the Son on behalf of his people and declares him to be righteous.  So as Jesus was truly condemned in his death because he bore our sins he is also truly justified in his resurrection as he is our righteousness.

Also the Bible is clear that Christ’s resurrection has to do with his sanctification.

We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.  For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. (Rom. 6:9-10)
So in Christ’s death he came under the power of sin because death is the consequence of sin (although this never ever means that Jesus became a sinner).  In his resurrection Jesus is delivered from this power and dominion.  So this is a reference to the definitive aspect of sanctification where the power of sin is broken and removed.  So the power of sin in our mortal bodies is destroyed in Christ’s resurrection as we are raised with him to new life in the Spirit.

Finally, Christ’s resurrection points to his adoption.

concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 1:3-4)
Again, this is a declaration of what happened regarding Christ in history.  He was descended from David according to the flesh.  But according to his resurrection he was declared to be powerful Son of God.  As the Second Person of the Trinity he was Son of God from all eternity.  However in his human nature he was descended from David as we see in the genealogies in Matthew 1 and Luke 4.  Here Paul refers to an economic reality about Christ.  As the eternal divine Second Person of the Trinity he was always Son of God even in his humiliation but now in his human nature and body he was declared to be Son of God in his glorification and resurrection.
Lane Tipton writes, "To be in Christ is to be in the one who has become for believers the crucified and resurrected embodiment of all saving benefits.  Therefore, there are no benefits of the gospel apart from union with Christ." (Lane G. Tipton, "Union with Christ and Justification," in Justified in Christ: God's Plan for Us in Justification, ed. by K. Scott Oliphint, Geanies House: Mentor, 2007, 23-49).  All of this is again to show that all the aspects of Christ's work (his atoning death, resurrection, ascension, and sending the Spirit at Pentecost) are inseparable and are completely effective for the salvation of his people.  The eternal Son of God takes to himself a human body and soul and suffers for our sins in our place and he rises from the dead in our place too.  If we are in Christ then in him we died to the penalty and power of sin and in him we are raised to righteousness and new life and are declared to be children of God.  Easter is a wonderful time of year to meditate on our justification, sanctification, and adoption in Christ and to praise God that even while we were dead in our trespasses in sin God made us alive in Christ for it is by grace that we have been saved (Eph. 2:4-6).  As Calvin wrote:
We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ.  We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else.  If we seek salvation, we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is “of him.”  If we seek any other gifts of the Spirit, they will be found in his anointing.  If we seek strength, it lies in his dominion; if purity, in his conception; if gentleness, it appears in his birth. . . .  If we seek redemption, it lies in his passion; if acquittal, in his condemnation; if remission of the curse, in his cross; if satisfaction, in his sacrifice; if purification, in his blood; if reconciliation, in his descent into hell; if mortification of the flesh, in his tomb; if newness of life, in his resurrection; if immortality, in the same; if inheritance of the Heavenly Kingdom, in his entrance into heaven; if protection, if security, if abundant supply of all blessings, in his Kingdom; if untroubled expectation of judgment, in the power given to him to judge.  In short, since rich store of every kind of good abounds in him, let us drink our fill from this fountain and from no other. (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.16.19)

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